In a boiling hot studio on the south bank of the Thames, the band Rejection Letter were sitting in front of 7 cameras, a large audience whooping and hollering at them as though it was the main stage at Glastonbury, and with one of their posters from the glory days sitting behind them.
The presenter, Jake Harrap, had been dealing with them delicately. The look in his eyes was that of a boy coming face-to-face with his heroes, and seeing them spurn him as soon as he started to talk. It wasn't hard to see why; the band were not the same group of hot-headed teen rebels that had taken the charts by storm 20 years ago. The poster in the backdrop was a harsh reminder of what drugs, alcohol, fast living and the rockstar lifestyle can do to the human body. Nowhere was that truer than in the bloodshot, barely-focused eyes of their lead singer Michael Brock.
"Michael, I think you once told a reporter that you had more fun with music when you were just kids messing around in the back room of a pub than you ever did after you got famous," started Jake. "Do you still pine for the days at The Crown, writing music and not caring if anyone listened?"
A look of wistfulness passed across Brock's face for a moment, or possibly just a mild feeling of nausea from last night's raucous party in the hotel lounge. The network would be footing the bill for that, for certain. Channel 6 were hurriedly working out estimates for decorators and their accountants still trying to work out the bar tab. "I was just spending my days in a garage, fixing cars by hand and making them clean... my thoughts were so much clearer then - no distractions - I could spend hours turning a burnt-out engine into something shiny and new, and my mind was free to write songs that we'd play in the evenings. I do miss the good old days, you're absolutely right there."
The rest of the band were sitting a little away from Michael, as they always did in interviews because of the way he usually yelled and threw things at them. Being in a tour bus for months on end with 4 other people, you could love them at the start but tempers fray quickly. They were also surprised because it was a rare moment of lucidity for their perma-drunk, habitually stoned lead singer.
"Would anyone else like to weigh in on the good old days?" asked Harrap, a hashtag #RejLet underneath his orange-tanned face. The musicians looked more than uncertain for a moment; they were not used to speaking in interviews unless they were given explicit instructions by their agent, a man they had started nicknaming The Cobra for reasons best left to the imagination.
"Michael's not the only one who misses it, at least a little," said Gregory Stuart, the keyboard player. The long-haired, grinning hedonist in the poster, and almost every one of the band's LPs and CDs had grown into a stressed-out accountant with a receding hairline, but for a moment, a bit of that youthful spirit crossed his face. "I worked in the Council offices during the day - just simple busy-work that any idiot could do, kept the place tidy and free of trouble, and at night, we set the town on fire... through our music, not literally of course," he stammered, returning to the small, worried man that 5 gigs a week had made him. Greg smiled a little, and motioned gracefully with his left hand to the other band-members to weigh in.
"I was in the local police force," said David "Mad Dave" Corran. He grinned at the camera at this point as if to say yep, I was a policeman, can you believe it? As a man who had been arrested 5 times in 4 countries, this did seem unlikely, but perhaps it explained why he had never served a prison sentence. "Between me and these two scumbags working in the fire station, it was tough finding the time to be a part of R.L, but we managed it somehow."
Seeing the band lounge on the plush sofas laughing and reminiscing, it was hard to believe, at least for anyone that knew them, that they had been on the show to announce that they were about to split. The Cobra was watching in the Green Room backstage on a small monitor with sudden interest. He had been planning all angles for the fallout from their break-up, but never considered the possibility that Harrap, a runner-up for a reality TV show two years previously, would be acting as marriage-guidance counsellor for a band who were on the rocks.
"Do you ever go back to Blackthorn now that you're famous? Any homecoming gigs on the horizon?" the presenter asked, through teeth that were whiter than even white should be. The entire band looked as alarmed as if they had been presented with paternity suits (Michael holding the record at 3) and tried to come up with an answer.
After a few moments of dead air, Brock smiled and said: "We pull in crowds of thousands - there's simply no room in a little town like Blackthorn for one of our gigs. Ask the Mayor if you like, but I can't think of a single place in that area that could hold ten thousand or more screaming fans." He smiled, more for the cameras than anything else, and they continued with the interview.
"For the first time in years, it looks as though there have been no tour-dates booked. Is this where you tell us why you haven't been making any plans for the future?" asked Harrap, a man with a mission to get this show back on track. He hadn't been told why the group were there, assuming that it was for publicity, but had read every piece of information the researchers could provide.
"Who knows? Maybe we have an album in the pipeline."
"It could be that a huge tour is being lined up and we want to get some new songs and stunts prepped."
"Maybe we're just fed up with this lifestyle and need a bit of a rest," added Greg with a carefree laugh that wasn't fully convincing.
After a few stories about their past, and scotching the rumours about a night in Hamburg that made the local press nickname them Abschaumgruppen, which "Mad Dave" explained meant something like nasty group, the interview drew to a close. The band were hustled off-stage and replaced with a stand-up comic who shook their hands and then knelt in a "We're not worthy" stance.
The band were there for one reason only - to announce that they were not touring anymore and were going their separate ways. Things don't always turn out as you expect.